NASA and SpaceX consider returning Crew-2 before Crew-3 launches

Weather has been wreaking havoc with NASA and SpaceX's launch plans for the SpaceX Crew-3 mission to take new crewmembers to the ISS. Previously, Crew-3 had been expected to launch on October 31, but weather along the flight path prevented that launch. It was then rescheduled for November 3, but the launch didn't occur then either. Currently, the next opportunity for Crew-3 to launch is 9:51 PM EST on Monday, November 8.

NASA and SpaceX are now considering if the Crew-2 astronauts will return from the space station before Crew-3 launches. Currently, NASA is considering returning Crew-2 astronauts before new crewmembers arrive at the ISS due to associated weather conditions that could impact the launch and recovery operations.

NASA has confirmed that the earliest Crew-2 could undock from the ISS and return to Earth is 4:59 PM EST on Sunday, November 7. The crew members will return to Earth and splashdown off the coast of Florida. NASA does have a backup opportunity for Crew-2 to leave the space station on Monday, November 8. November 8 is the same day Crew-3 has a launch opportunity.

NASA intends to decide if it will prioritize the Crew-3 launch or Crew-2 return in the coming days. In making that decision, NASA is considering if it believes there is the best chance for good weather for splashdown or launch missions. Also under consideration is the time needed between launch and return operations.

There were launch opportunities available for Crew-3 on Saturday, November 6, and Sunday, November 7. However, NASA chose to bypass both of those launch opportunities due to unfavorable weather conditions. The 45th Weather Squadron forecasted only a 40 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for November 6, with the main concern being high winds during liftoff, cumulus clouds, and service electric field constraints.

Weather concerns on November 7 include problems at launch abort sites on the eastern seaboard of the US. The weather is being closely monitored for the chosen launch date of November 8. The main concern that could prevent launch is strong winds at the launch site and potentially unfavorable conditions downrange.

Another concern for the Crew-3 launch is what NASA calls a "minor medical issue" with one of the astronauts. The agency believes the medical issue will be cleared before launch and didn't elaborate on which crewmember was suffering from the issue or exactly what the issue was. Despite being delayed multiple times, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket are ready to fly and remain on the launchpad.

The Crew Dragon capsule that will return Crew-2 astronauts home is also healthy and remains docked to the space station. One of the requirements for the Crew Dragon capsule, and any other capsule participating in the commercial crew program, is that it can remain in orbit for 210 days. The capsule could remain in orbit for longer with additional analysis. NASA promises more updates on the Crew-3 launch and the Crew-2 return in the coming days.

Something that has been previously stated about the Crew-2 capsule is that the astronauts will be unable to use the capsule's toilet. A problem with the design of the toilet aboard the Crew Dragon capsule was discovered during the all civilian Inspiration4 mission. On that mission, a tube meant to filter liquid waste broke loose and allowed the liquid to get under the floor panels of the capsule. SpaceX has designed a fix involving welding the tube in place, but the Crew Dragon attached to the ISS lacks that fix.

NASA has advised the astronauts not to use the toilet on their return trip. Instead, the astronauts are being issued special undergarments to be used in case they need them. Essentially, they will use diapers rather than the toilet.